BENT: Previewing UFC 94 - Georges St. Pierre vs. B.J. Penn
By By: Jason Bent, MMATorch Columnist
Jan 29, 2009 - 9:14:11 PM
The first time these two met almost three years ago at UFC 58 it was a great fight contested between two of the best to determine the number one contender in the welterweight division. Georges St. Pierre was considered a top fighter, but Matt Hughes was the welterweight king, and rightfully so considering that he had already beaten St. Pierre at UFC 50. B.J. Penn was the pudgy prodigy who won the first round against St. Pierre in convincing fashion but had faded down the stretch and looked to be beatable, if only by himself and his lack of focus on his craft.
Fast forward to January of 2009 and Georges St. Pierre is considered not just the best welterweight but one of the very best fighters in the entire world. B.J. Penn is now highly motivated and is not only the best lightweight in the world but a legitimate threat to take the UFC Welterweight Championship away from Georges St. Pierre and reign over two divisions, while also being considered as the best fighter in the entire world. This is not really remarkable in that we knew the first bout was special and that the two men were among the best that this sport had to offer, but is because of the maturation process of B.J. Penn and the continuing refinement of Georges St. Pierre. Both have gotten even better than many had considered them to be, and in Penn's case it is a matter of finally working hard to accentuate all of his natural gifts and actually become the fighter he should have been so long ago.
Dream matches are more often than not a first time meeting between two fighters who just have never been in the same place at the same time but are finally going to meet in order to satiate the hunger of the fans, while determining just who is the best. Penn and St. Pierre have met before, but they were two different men at a different stage of their career, and this will truly be the first time that either has met an opponent like the one that shall stand across from them at UFC 94.
B.J. Penn is the man you think of when you hear the term prodigy, and not just because he happens to go by this as his nickname. Penn is a legitimate Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu prodigy in that he earned his black belt in less than five years of even training in the discipline. There are some guys who train and work hard at their craft but just lack the aptitude to advance so quickly, and for Penn it came with ease. Perhaps even too easy. His crowning achievement came in 2000 as he became the first non-Brazilian to win the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship in the Black Belt division. Penn winning this as a non-Brazilian would be the equivalent of a white kid from Montana showing up at Rucker Park and schooling everyone in games of one on one before showing them how he can also take off from the foul line a la Jordan in his prime.
B.J. Penn had not mastered the discipline of BJJ, as this is not something anyone without the last name Gracie has been able to do, but he proved capable of doing more in less time and with less visible effort than anyone else around. Penn parlayed his success in the World Jiu-Jitsu Championships into a spot in the UFC, and while this is impressive that he went directly to the UFC it must be remembered that this was at a time when appearing in the UFC wasn't exactly on the to-do list of many top athletes, as the sport and in particular this company was in a very bad place while trying to just establish themselves as belonging on even footing with any other professional sport. Both B.J. Penn and the UFC have come a long way since 2001.
Georges St. Pierre didn't have the most pleasant childhood of all, and he turned to the martial arts for its most practical purpose of all as he needed to defend himself against a bully, but never was he considered a can't-miss prospect in any discipline. St. Pierre worked his way up to brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in 2006 under the tutelage of the great Renzo Gracie, but had a falling out with Gracie following his loss to Matt Serra. Soon after he began training under Bruno Fernandes and was awarded his black belt in October of last year. St. Pierre is a naturally gifted athlete, but he has worked very, very hard to get to where he is today; and he is particularly special in that he is a top class fighter who has gotten better and better rather than simply getting by on what had worked for him in the past.
Georges St. Pierre was enthralled with the UFC from the very beginning, and fought his very first bout on the amateur level at the age of 16. Just five short years later he was competing as a professional and with much success under the Universal Combat Challenge banner. He made his UFC debut almost two years to the day of his first professional fight and scored a unanimous decision over the ever dangerous Karo Parisyan at UFC 46. He has been in the UFC and at the top of his class ever since, save for one loss to a prime Matt Hughes and an aberration against Matt Serra at UFC 69.
B.J. Penn rattled off three quick wins to begin his UFC career before dropping a majority decision to Jens Pulver at UFC 35. He has gone on to become among the very best in the game, but it has been frustrating to see a fighter so naturally gifted go about his career in such a lackadaisical manner. Geniuses often get bored and become complacent if they are not pushed outside of their comfort zone, and few if any fighters proved to be capable of doing so to Penn. It would seem as if he the competitive fire has once again been lit underneath of him, and while this is excellent for all of us who are watching him, it spells nothing but trouble for those who may face him, including Georges St. Pierre at UFC 94.
Georges St. Pierre holds a record of 17-2, with seven wins coming by way of KO and five by way of submission. Along the way he has beaten the likes of the aforementioned Karo Parisyan along with Jason Miller, Frank Trigg, Sean Sherk, Matt Hughes and of course B.J. Penn. He has lost only to Matt Hughes and Matt Serra, and has exacted revenge by getting the victory over each of these men in the subsequent rematch.
He most recently faced Jon Fitch at UFC 87 and triumphed by scoring a unanimous decision over a supremely tough opponent who was not willing to give up or back down at any time in the fight. He heads into this match up with B.J. Penn at what seems like the peak of his career, but at only 27 years old it is entirely possible that we may not have seen his best yet.
B.J. Penn holds a record of 13-4-1 with five wins coming by way of KO and five by way of submission. His draw came against the formerly formidable Caol Uno at UFC 41 in 2003. The fighters he holds victories over read like a listing of an All-Star team of MMA fighters, and have included such names as Takanori Gomi, Matt Hughes, Sean Sherk, Jens Pulver and Renzo Gracie. His losses have come against Matt Hughes, Jens Pulver, Lyoto Machida and of course, Georges St. Pierre at UFC 58.
He most recently faced Sean Sherk at UFC 84 and bested "The Muscle Shark" in dominating fashion before proceeding to revisit the most curious of all post-fight celebrations, that of licking his opponent's blood from off of his own gloves. If you considered facing a fighter like Penn it is a sure bet that your confidence would fade after seeing him fight, and a sure bet that you would run to the locker-room after witnessing his glove licking display. Penn was motivated for his fight with Sherk, and felt as if Sherk was a fraud following his suspension for a positive steroids test, and he was not out to win the fight but rather to destroy the man. He heads into this bout with St. Pierre even more motivated than he was against Sherk, and as if he has to prove himself to the world all over again. Penn is only 30 years old and in the peak of his athletic career, and it finally appears as if he has matured to the point at which his performances can finally match the level at which he is capable of fighting. This does not bode well for St. Pierre but is certainly something all of us who shall be watching the fight are ecstatic about.
For Georges St. Pierre to win this bout he is going to have to once again prove capable of taking a beating and continuing forward, but he would be best advised to do all he can to avoid a first round such as the one he experienced in their first fight. He clearly is aware of the fact that he was losing their first bout before Penn became exhausted, and should be coming into this fight with the notion that Penn is now capable of going the full five rounds with him at UFC 94. This means St. Pierre has got to be ready for a war of attrition and needs to be mentally prepared even more than he does in a physical sense. A mental lapse spelled defeat in his loss to Matt Hughes, and such a thing in this bout with Penn could he harmful to his health and not just his win-loss record. If GSP is going to win this fight he is going to need to survive B.J. Penn and find some way to push the pace and see if he can't make Penn exhaust himself while doing his best to take as little damage as possible. This one will have to go to the scorecards in order for St. Pierre to win, and he is going to need to be at better than the best we have ever seen if he wishes to make it 2-0 over the "Prodigy."
For B.J. Penn to win this fight he is going to need to be in shape to go the full five rounds, and be mentally prepared to do so, as I do not see St. Pierre giving in early in this bout. No one, not even GSP, can match Penn in terms of pure talent, but B.J. must prove to us in the Octagon that he is taking this fight as seriously as we have all been led to believe. Penn absolutely dominated St. Pierre in Round 1 of their first fight and both fighters know it. Penn simply must be capable of bringing the same level of intensity, but with the capability to go round after round and have enough gas in his tank to make sure he is able to do so. A serious, in shape B.J. Penn should be able to fight in the same manner with which he fought in their first fight and this time be fully capable of finishing his man off and becoming the first man to hold belts in two UFC divisions at the very same time.
Bent's Prediction: B.J. Penn by 4th Round TKO
I like Georges St. Pierre a lot and believe he will be capable of pushing the action against Penn, but I strongly feel that the Penn of 2009 is going to be too powerful for him to handle. I see the first round going in a similar manner to their first encounter, but have to imagine that St. Pierre will have enough of a game plan to make it out alive and keep in this fight for a few more rounds. I think the accumulation of damage will finally be too much and his will shall be broken by the very best B.J. Penn that the world has ever seen.
This one has epic written all over it and I see no way imaginable that this fight could be a letdown, and instead feel it will actually exceed the expectations. When a "Mega Fight" lives up to its billing it goes down in history and becomes legendary, and that is exactly what is in store for us at UFC 94.
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